President Donald Trump and the global far right rushed on Monday to congratulate Jair Bolsonaro, the authoritarian former army captain who won Brazil’s presidential election this weekend after promising to “cleanse” the country of his political opponents and give police “carte blanche” to kill people suspected of crimes.
Trump tweeted that he had a “very good conversation” with Bolsonaro and an “exciting call,” noting that Bolsonaro won by a large margin. Those remarks echoed far-right leaders in countries such as Germany, France and Italy who voiced their support for Bolsonaro.
Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini was one of the first to cheer on Bolsonaro’s victory, tweeting a photo of himself giving a thumbs-up and exclaiming that Brazilians had sent the liberals home. American white nationalist Richard Spencer retweeted Salvini, and other extremists from the so-called alt-right similarly celebrated the result.
The far-right Alternative for Germany party’s foreign affairs representative, Petr Bystron, heralded Bolsonaro as the leader of a conservative revolution and described him as an upstanding politician whom the media unfairly slandered. Bystron inaccurately stated that a stabbing attack against Bolsonaro during the campaign ― which drew widespread international media coverage ― was ignored by the press. In France, National Front leader Marine Le Pen wished Bolsonaro good luck and blamed Brazil’s crime and corruption on the “extreme left.”
Far-right media outlets such as Breitbart also got in on the action, casting Bolsonaro as an anti-corruption advocate while leaving out his extreme policy positions like promoting torture and extrajudicial killings. A major pro-government, far-right Hungarian news outlet compared him to Trump and chastised the mainstream media for criticizing Bolsonaro’s campaign.
Throughout the Brazilian race, journalists and rights groups repeatedly warned of Bolsonaro’s embrace of authoritarianism and advocacy for violence ― including against women, minorities and LGBTQ communities. His admiration for dictatorships and strongmen deeply alarmed critics, who have pointed out that Brazil’s democratic institutions are far newer and more fragile than those in the U.S. and many European countries.
More moderate world leaders have kept quiet on the election or put out carefully worded statements that hinted at their concerns. French President Emmanuel Macron’s message to Bolsonaro highlighted the need for “promotion of democratic principles,” and Spanish President Pedro Sánchez spoke of enormous challenges in the years to come.
Meanwhile, Trump’s praise for Bolsonaro adds to the list of authoritarians and dictators whom the president has championed. In a call last year with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Trump even praised Duterte’s self-described crackdown on drugs, which in effect is a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings that has left over 12,000 people dead. Bolsonaro has vowed to use similar tactics to take on Brazil’s crime.